On the slopes of a volcano with Anthony Roux

This is a training camp like no other, far from usual standards, that Anthony Roux was nonetheless willing to join. For the past week, alongside the team’s climbers Thibaut Pinot, David Gaudu and Rudy Molard, the 2018 French champion has been riding up and down the harsh roads of the Teide volcano on the Tenerife Island, off the coast of Morocco. For the second consecutive year, Groupama-FDJ has taken up residence there for an intensive training camp at high altitudes, far from everything else. During his rest day, Anthony Roux kindly agreed to share with us the details, unique moments, as well as a look behind the scenes, of this special experience.

“It is not within my comfort zone that I have the most fun”

“I never had the opportunity before to come and do a training camp here on the Teide. The team only started this camp last year and it didn’t fit my schedule at the time. Also, it was very focused on the climbers and they did not necessarily think to include me, logically enough. But during the pre-season interviews, I asked to be there and the team agreed. It is very different from the other training camps I’ve done with the team in the past, where I usually found myself with riders who had similar characteristics to mines. Still, I’m really happy to do this “hard-core” training camp. Actually, I love it! It may sound weird, but the suffering part is what I love the most in cycling.

Although I am not a climber, I often did training camps on Mont Ventoux. I would climb it 2, 3 times a day and liked it. So I don’t mind being here, there’s no risk of me going nuts. It is obviously not a fun business as it is very mountainous but I was the one wanting to try something new. It is not within my comfort zone that I have the most fun. This training camp should also enable me to start off my season in a good way. When you’re climbing mountains for fifteen days straight, it can only do you good for what is coming, and it immediately gives a good boost. It is also a chance for me to understand if the altitude suits me.

“It sometimes feels like a western film”

Our hotel is located at 2100 meters or thereabouts. When I got here the first time, I really thought I was going to be in big trouble due to the altitude. But in everyday life, as long as you don’t make a big effort, it goes pretty well. You especially can feel it when you leave in the morning and you have to climb up to 2300 meters before descending to the bottom. As it is the first physical effort, you feel straight away that you are not properly ready and that it is quite difficult to push on the pedals. Then, with time, from day to day, you can feel that you are moving up to the next levels, altitude-wise. You are getting used to it. In addition to the atmosphere, which is very different from the one in France, there is also a real difference between the North and the South of the island. The South is rather dry and touristy. The North is green but rainy, so it is a bit complicated to ride there.

But what strikes you the most is when you gain height and reach more than 1,800 meters. There, it’s simply lunar! There isn’t a lot of vegetation, and when there is, it is super-dry. The last eruption occurred over 100 years ago (1909, editor’s note) but the remaining lava has turned to rock, making the landscape quite unique. It sometimes feels like a western movie. I was lucky enough to have great weather when I landed a day before the others. I rode straight from the airport to come up here and discovered this wonderful scenery along the way. On the other hand, when we happen to climb in the fog, it certainly feels longer! Especially when you are not a climber and you can’t really enjoy the surrounding landscape.

Another advantage here is the fact that the altitude and the volcano together muffle the sound a bit. Our hotel is just across the road, but when cars pass you don’t hear them. When we’re on a ride, the only noise that reaches our ears is the one of our wheels spinning. This great calm is immediately striking. In that sense, it feels really exotic compared to all the training camps that we have been able to do in the past. It’s simple, it’s beautiful, but to be honest, in the long run, it may also be a little monotonous. On holidays I would not stay more than 15 days (smiles).

“The best thing would be not to have Internet at all”

Nor should one believe that we are cut off from the world. Thanks to the Wi-Fi, we manage to stay tuned… The best thing, actually, would be not to have Internet at all! So you can just call your wife in the evening and then ‘’basta’’! Well, I’m not sure everyone would agree on that (laughs). Personally, I wouldn’t mind cutting off properly for a while. But of course, over 15 days of training camp, it’s also nice to have something to entertain ourselves with, especially during the recovery days. Because we have to say there isn’t much to do here. We are near a volcano … There is nothing at all! The first supermarket, for instance, is an hour away by car!

As far as I am concerned, I’m happy to do nothing, it’s also good from time to time. This is a very serene training camp. We can stay focused only on what we have to do. It’s only about work and recovery. As riders, we just have to think about cycling, massage and food. It is super relaxing and I feel like I’m working really well thanks to that. Apart from the French women’s team, that arrived a few days before us, we mostly saw riders by themselves, not supervised like we are. It’s quite simple; there are either pro riders on their own or elders who come here to walk and seek peace.

“I always finish the Teide alone”

Each day is a little different, but generally we try to leave the hotel around 10am, just to not get cold on the downhill that takes us down 2000 meters. Once at sea level, the real ordeal begins. It goes up and down endlessly. I hang on to the guys during the whole ride; I’m not going to let myself get dropped in every climb! I obviously put more intensity into it than my three climbers teammates, but I hang on. Then the training always ends with an ascent of the Teide, on either side. And since the sun sets later here, around 7p.m., we have some time to come back.

As soon as we get to the end, I don’t bother the others anymore. Whether I’m with them or not, it doesn’t change anything at that point, and it’s off for a good hour and a half of climbing. You really must mentally prepare for it (laughs)! Of course I can’t follow the other three when they decide to speed up, so I got at my own pace. I always finish alone but Philippe [Mauduit] or Julien [Pinot) drop back to watch me from time to time and to refuel me if necessary. I am very aware that I am not Gaudu or Molard in the climbs. I drag 10 to 15 kilos more than the three guys who are with me, and who are, by the way, among the world’s top climbers. I know perfectly the reason why I am here and that we are different riders. In the long rides we did, I finished only 10 minutes after them. We’ve done half of the training camp by now and I have no regrets at all being there.

“Rudy stands out a bit. Thibaut, his brother Julien, and me are the worst”

After the training, we usually have a little snack with each other, then have our massage and meal around 7p.m. There is a little restaurant here, quite family friendly. The hotel is simple but relaxing, just what you need. We always end the day with a board game to chill out. Last year, they mostly played Uno. This year, we switched to Jungle Speed, a card game with different colours, but also different patterns that are purposely a bit confusing. There is a totem in the middle, and as soon as two identical cards come out, you have to catch it! Whoever catches it gives his cards to the opponent and the first one who runs out of his cards wins. It’s simple and it’s pretty fun. And of course, there is a bit of a “fight”! The totem often goes all over the place!

By the way, the first time we played it with Jacky Maillot, the team doctor, the totem went off and landed on his glasses (laughs)! There almost was some damage but it turns into fun most of the time. We usually do 3-4 rounds every night and I have to say that Rudy is the star player. Thibaut, his brother Julien, and me are the worst. It’s really nice anyway to be in a small group, it’s easier to meet at night; it’s more convivial. Then, at 10/10:30 p.m, lights outs for me in order to recover as much as possible. The time actually flies. There isn’t that much time to get bored.

“Everyone is here to commit”

There are seven of us doing the camp from start to finish: the four riders, two physios and Julien Pinot who is our main coach. Our sports director Philippe Mauduit will leave a bit before the end. Team Doctor Jacky Maillot stayed for five days, and our osteopath for three days. A mechanic was there the first three days and he will come back at the end. All in all, there are only twelve members of the team who pass through the hotel. It’s a really limited number. You don’t find yourself with 80-100 people like at other camps.

The good thing is also that there are only simple and easy-going guys here, including the staff. And above all, everyone knows why he is here: to commit. Disconnecting from your personal life and taking care of the group completely is also a performance from the staff members. Of course there are inevitably moments in the day when we must take time to find ourselves again. That is also important. Although we all get along very well, and it’s not a chore for anyone to be here, we also need to take a break from the group check in with our families.

“At home you are a dad, when you leave, you try to think only about yourself”

It can be very hard sometimes to combine family life and cycling life when you have children. It’s easier when you’re “only” in a relationship. Now I must plan my rides around picking up the kids from school, then I have to take care of their snack, bath etc. The day is not only about training anymore and it is super tiring. It may seem a little cruel to say that, but being here on this volcano enables me to recover really well. Since I’m a sad, I have the feeling that I recover more when I am out of the house than when I am there. It’s also good to think about yourself.

Fortunately, I am lucky enough to have a wife who really supports me and who understands fully. You just need to find the right balance and create this double role. At home you are a sad and when you leave, you try to think only about yourself. It’s hard to understand when you don’t know what it is, but I think that in order to perform well on the bike, that’s what you have to do at least for a few years, so that you don’t have any regrets afterwards. The level is so high now that to perform, you have to commit. It’s not always easy, but you have to be aware of it.”